- BANGKOK, Thailand -
Perhaps more than any country in the world, hand-to-hand fighting has perhaps its deepest roots in "The Land of Smiles." Whereas other countries fused their primal and practical martial arts with weapons, Thailand has taken exhaustive measures to protect their ancient art of Muay Boran (the sport version of which is called Muay Thai). Such measures likely were primarily about preserving their cultural heritage, but more and more it seems that money is playing an increasingly important role.
King Rama VII (reigned from 1925-1935) is often given credit for helping to turn Muay Boran into sport. Now, in 2012, thousands of people each year come to Thailand specifically to train in Muay Thai. For many, including myself, it was a lifelong dream. For many others, they are sharpening their skills so that they can compete in MMA - Muay Thai has proven to be one of the most effective martial arts in the sport of mixed martial arts. However, where as my interest in Muay Thai grew because I found MMA, there are rumors that Thailand's Ministry of Tourism & Sports have officially banned MMA precisely because it is "causing erosion" to and "damaging the image" of Thailand's national sport. Yes, that the same group handles both "Tourism" and "Sports" certainly has much to do with this.
This supposed ban comes at a time of rapid growth within Thailand's MMA community. In the past year, DARE Fight Sports has grown tremendously in popularity. DARE is a professional MMA promotion in Bangkok and is Thailand's first organization to use the octagonal cage that is now MMA's trademark. In fact, last week an article I wrote about them appeared on the front page of Sherdog.com, MMA's premier website. And just three days ago DARE made a sort of history - they were, in the opinion of many, the first MMA organization to have a front page article about them in The Bangkok Post.
Those who have watched Muay Thai in Thailand know well the brutality of it. Some fighters compete once-per-week or more. Fighters often begin training and even fighting well before they would graduate from elementary school in the United States. A majority of people who attend the fights in Thailand do so because they love to bet on fights. The referees often let the fights go long after they should be stopped. I consider myself a seasoned fight fan and even a lover of Muay Thai, yet I actually had to walk out of one Muay Thai event I went to because I truly thought a fighter was going to die.
Sure, Muay Thai has its problems. But the rise of MMA has only helped the rise of Muay Thai. I'd argue that millions of people in the world who never previously heard of Muay Thai now know quite a bit about it thanks to the rise of mixed martial arts. However, Thailand is a place proud to have never been colonized. And they've got in their national treasure and sport a simultaneous touristic money-maker. It's only natural that they want to protect it - it's the same as a country that wants to preserve their oil or their unique environmental attractions. For many, Thailand is Muay Thai. That said, as many fighters in Thailand want to transition to MMA and as Muay Thai seems to be taking more and more of a backseat to the sport of mixed martial arts, it's easy to see why Thailand may take such measures. While sources about the ban are still a bit shady at this point, the reality is that it may only be a matter of time before Thailand bans MMA.
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